‘We need to equip students with coping strategies’

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Tracey Ward, assistant head teacher at Stanley Grove primary academy, reviews her work as a trained mental health first aider.

Being a mental health first aider means you have been trained to spot signs and symptoms and can “intervene early”. If you have done the Mental Health First Aid England training you are more aware of depression and anxiety.

Wellbeing is a priority for us and we want to make sure that if our children are in a crisis in their lives, that we have equipped them with the right coping strategies – ones that are sustainable and that they will be able to use in the future.

We have converted our first aid stations into mental and physical health stations and we have trained mental health first aiders to be there at break and lunch times. On their trays the children all have a “first aid kit” – which is a picture of an open case with a red cross on it. They write on it what they need when they are feeling distressed, overwhelmed or anxious. The children love this approach.

This week I was at one of the first aid stations when a child had an outburst and came to me saying they were “overwhelmed”. I told him to collect his mental first aid kit from the tray and we discussed what he could do. Another child came to us because they had “a busy mind” and we carried out the stress bucket activity. We discussed what was making the stress container full and what could be put in place to empty out some of the water.

Part of our approach is to embrace physical activity to support mental health. One of our wellbeing activities is the daily mile, marked out on the playground. Every child from nursery to year 6 walks, jogs or runs it every day and they can do it with a friend or a member of staff. We find children are more likely to open up about their feelings outside of the classroom. Our ethos and culture is warm and happy and I think that’s a lot to do with the importance we place on mental health and wellbeing.

Article adapted from the Guardian.

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